Bray’s battle to finish in the top six of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division is going right down to the wire. This Friday 28th October is to be make or break for the top six. A few weeks ago Bray were in a 5-team, mid-table mini league, the top 2 of which would finish in the top half of the overall table. After last Friday’s results that was effectively whittled down to a mid-table mini league of 3, with Sligo virtually assured of top 6 statuses and Galway having fallen away from this group. So that left Bohemians, Bray and St Patrick’s Athletic slugging it out for the last top 6 place.
A week before Bray had moved into 6th after beating St Pat’s, only to slip down to 7th when Pats beat Cork City 3-1 in a midweek game last week, one of the 2 they had in hand over Bray. Friday’s results saw Bray nudge above them again, thanks to a hard-earned draw against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght while Pats went down 3-1 to Cork in a reversal of the result recorded 4 days previously.
Both Pats and Bohemians still had a game in hand over Bray. They both had to play Dundalk. Bray were hoping the champions could do them a favour and beat the Dublin pair, a scenario that would allow Bray to line up for the last day of the season with their fate in their own hands. If they were still in 6th going into the last round of games and they beat Cork in the Carlisle Grounds then nothing Bohemians or Pats did would matter.
Why was I analysing the mid-table situation so much? Obviously because it is my team involved in this battle. Also because it is good for the league that this battle is being played out. And don’t tell me that finishing 6th didn’t matter a lot to Pats and Bohs too.
Well, Dundalk beat Bohs 2-1 on Sunday 23rd to lift the title [and indirectly help Bray out a bit] but couldn’t repeat that result against Pats on Tuesday 25th, going down 5-2. I suppose it was unfair of me as a Bray fan to expect Dundalk to be our own personal assassins, picking off our mid-table rivals one by one.
This meant Bohs could not now finish in the top six, and the battle for securing a top half of the table final standing was down to Bray and Pats. Bray will take on Cork this Friday 28th at home while Pats will be at home to Derry. Bray need to win and hope Pats lose. Nothing else will do, bar a huge Sligo loss and a big Bray win, or a huge Bray win and a Pats draw, both highly unlikely.
After Bray’s heroics on Friday last against Shamrock Rovers Rochdale didn’t come through for me on the Saturday. They lost to Coventry City, 2-0. No disgrace in that, Coventry were in the Premier League just a little over a decade ago. But Dale had been on such a run recently, I thought it would go on for the rest of the season and result in automatic promotion to the Championship for the first time ever. I suppose they could still go up, although they are punching above their weight just by being in League One, hence the boxing-glove t-shirt being the top-selling item of merchandise in the club shop.
For years Coventry was a team that seemed to have the Midas touch when it came to avoiding relegation from the Premier League. They hung on from 1967 until 2002, a full quarter-century. And I thought Bray were ‘the team that couldn’t be relegated’ with our 12-year residency in Ireland’s top-flight. Mind you, Coventry has made up for it since, plummeting through the English pyramid in recent years like Portsmouth or Blackpool wannabes. They sold their Highfield Road stadium and moved as tenants to the Ricoh Arena, only to not be able to afford the rent there and opt to ground share with Northampton Town. Still, they beat Dale on Saturday and our progress up the table is now progress down the table after 2 defeats in a week [Swindon had beaten us in the midweek].
Trying to keep track of the positions of Bray and Rochdale in their respective league tables was beginning to feel like being a recording engineer, moving the faders up and down like there’s no tomorrow.
Whatever the result for Bray next Friday, and whatever the final league position, the lads have done themselves, the club and the town proud. I hope we can keep this super bunch together for next season. On Friday night we have our Player Of The Year Awards after the game; a time to celebrate not just the winner but the whole squad who have given us so much pleasure this year.